Traveling to Morocco is always a special treat. The coastal African country is rich in traditions of simple daily life with beautiful scents, inspiring riads, amazing tagines, the BEST mint tea and of course, exotic markets. But it’s also known for something else… something you can only find here deep in the dry forests of the Moroccan countryside: Argan Oil. It was this highly effective moisturizing oil that Kérastase sent us to discover for ourselves.
With my travel companions Samantha from California, Yoshiko from Japan, and Marie-Laure from France we landed together in Agadir and began our journey to the Argan forest along the rocky cliffside of the African coast. The farther we ventured from Agadir, the more mountainous and wild the landscape became until the goats were in the trees and acres and acres of Argan trees were all we could see.
We arrived to a co-op run by all women. It is here Kérastase has empowered these women to help them source and produce the highest quality Argan oil for the new Kérastase Aura Botanica haircare range. The process is anything but simple and is quite time consuming. First, women collect the fallen Argan nuts off the ground then leave them in piles to dry for months in the sun. The outer shell is then removed and hand sorted. The nuts move from each group of women to the next, generations mixed from young to old, and on joyous afternoons the women will chant traditional Moroccan songs while they work in harmony.
The next stage is the hardest, I would know because they made me try it! I ended up smashing my fingers more than cracking the hard shell of the Argan nut. With precision and centuries old technique, the women using a rock and a stone, smash the hard outer shell revealing a very delicate, white, almost almond-like nut in the core. Sorted again by hand, the best nuts make it to the pressing phase where the Argan oil that is so powerful for hair, skin and nails is extracted and filtered. This oil, from these photos below, are what make up the key natural ingredient of Kérastase’s Aura Botanica.
“The new Aura Botanica range is made for the woman who believes that responsibility is a must, performance a right and glowing, healthy hair is the essence of self-expression.” -Kérastase
More than just being another natural origin hair product, Aura Botanica takes the beauty of a product that is good for your hair but makes beauty out of the artisanal nature of how the product is made. This co-op is supported by Kérastase and is devoted to making Argan oil found in this new line of haircare, and it gives these pastoral women independence, monetary income, and strengthens their community. They are provided childcare while they are at work in the co-op and access to health care they might otherwise not have access to. With a translator we spoke with these women about how this cooperative has changed their life as they invited us into their homes. They showed the stoves and small refrigerators they were able to purchase, the decorative tiles for their floor and the paint colors on the walls which is an important part of self expression for these women. They talked about how having the community of women to be with every day made them happy and they looked forward to going to work.
Since this journey I have been using the Kérastase Aura Botanica line on my own hair at home and each time I think about this time spent with these women who were so loving and generous. There is beauty in the full circle of doing something healthy for your hair and skin while also supporting women to lead better, beautiful lives.
The hair care set consists of a shampoo, conditioner, a nourishing oil blend which can be used as a hair oil on its own or mixed into the conditioner (which is what I do) for a more intense moisturizing shine, and a finishing moisturizing oil-mist I use after drying my hair and throughout the day to mist in extra moisture. The scent is a gentle floral bouquet of essential oils. Along with Argan oil the products also contain responsibility sourced coconut oil which is a favorite natural beauty moisturizer by beauty editors. It took years in the labs in Paris for Kérastase to come up with a naturally based luxury hair beauty product formula that could be stable, sustainable, responsibility sourced, healthy, and lasting. I know I love having a hair product where I do not have to compromise on performance in order to have naturality and because of the power of the coconut and Argan oil it continues to nourish hair for two days which is great for those of you looking for better frizz control. For me, it’s all about that lasting shine, beautiful smell, weightless performance and continued moisturizing especially because my hair is so long.
Of course this is more than a beauty product: it’s a thread through different cultures connecting us all to seek beauty every day.
Please join me below in a photographic tour behind the scenes of sourcing Aura Botanica in the hills of Morocco…
Above, spotted on the way to the co-op these forest goats can climb trees to eat the nuts found at the top.
Below, arriving to the co-op. These Berber Moroccan women use donkeys and baskets to haul Argan seeds.
Above, the Argan nut growing on the tree.
Below, a couple of the co-op women collecting the fallen ones to begin the process.
Below, the collected nuts are dried in the sun for months in the next phase.
Above and below, the first shell is cracked and the good nuts are sorted out for the next step.
Above and below, using two stones the women crack the second hard shell one by one by hand revealing the white nut inside which is where the oil is pressed from.
Below, sorted again by hand so only the highest quality nuts are used before the final stage.
Above, pressing out the Argan oil.
Below, the byproduct of the nuts after the oil has been extracted. Wasting nothing, the darker stick is used to feed animals, the lighter stick is used in other forms of natural beauty products.
Below, the final step is a slow filtration process of the oil.
The oil is now ready! This Argan oil is the star ingredient in Kérastase’s Aura Botanica providing all natural moisture and shine for healthy hair in the form of a shampoo, conditioner, essential hair oil and moisturizing oil-mist.
Below, the Berber women show us how they used to press the Argan oil out of the nuts before the co-op bought modern machinery for higher volume and precision. The rest of the process is still done by hand in the traditional method.
Below, getting to know the women who work at the co-op with my travel companions from all around the world. In traditional Moroccan culture, they washed our hands with rose water and served sweet mint tea before a traditional Moroccan feast where we all sat around the table on pillows on the floor. They had provided forks for us but after a few minutes we took cues from the locals and ditched the forks for communal dining, scooping up bites with delicious chunks of naan bread.
It was then back to Paris to the Kérastase labs to meet the team of female scientists behind the formula and even make ourselves the essential hair oil.
“Kérastase mobilized scientific teams to invent a new range from ground zero. It was the only way to truly elevate natural hair care, finally reconciling performance with products that are responsibly sourced and enjoyable to use. For a range that is truly driven by the power of nature, Kérastase saught to use only active ingredients that have been scientifically proven to have effects on the fibre. Coconut Oil, one of only two natural oils able to penetrate the fibre thanks to its short-chain lauric acid, anchors itself within the cortex providing durable nutrition and strength. For durable shine, suppleness and smoothness. Argan Oil’s rich Omega 6 and 9 allow it to resist oxidation and leave the fibre light and resplendent.”
Below, one of the scientists explaining how they test product on all different hair types and textures.
Above, studying on a microscopic level in the lab hair that has been treated with Aura Botanica (left) and hair which has not (right). You can see clearly the added shine with the hair on the left.
Below, I got to try it! Kérastase showed us how to use the new set of products so we could feel the difference in our hair before and after. My hair right away was incredibly shiny! At first I was afraid the oil would weigh down my hair but it was not oily at all and it smelled amazing.
Thank you Kérastase for inviting me on this journey of discovery from Morocco to Paris and now into my own home.